My Facebook wall lit up today over The Atlantic essay Introverted Kids Need to Learn to Speak Up at School. It could have been called "Buck Up, Kiddos!" The essay is very short and doesn't get into much depth. It's made me want to seek out Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain, which I read about last year.
I have no knowledge of research or science behind introversion and extroversion, only the same kind of anecdotal experience that my Facebook friends write about. I have two thoughts here:
1. Introversion may lead some of us self-identified introverts to behave in over-the-top, "out there" ways in some social and professional situations in which we have to function outside our comfort zone. We don't know how to be "on." We can only behave in ways that we think are "on." As a result, many people may be surprised that this person or that one believes themselves to be introverted because they often appear rather mouthy and loud.
2. Introversion may be relative. I think it's safe to say that three of the four members of my very immediate family identify as introverted. We believed the fourth was an extrovert. For, myself, it was marvelous to think that one of us had escaped what I obviously feel is a difficult personality issue. However, at one point it became clear that his friends didn't see him as an extrovert. His friends saw him as introverted, his family saw him as extroverted. He didn't necessarily behave any differently with one group than the other. I think it was more a matter of where those groups fell on the introversion/extroversion scale.
I do not think that introversion is something about myself that I need to change. I do, however, work on making myself comfortable in bigger, extroverted world situations, on the theory that if I'm comfortable, I'll function better. Just this past week, I managed to split my registration for a conference at which I'll be speaking this spring. I'm teaching on the Friday afternoon of a three-day conference at a site only about an hour from my home. The prospect of having to be with hundreds of people 24-hours a day for 3 days was filling me with anxiety. As it turned out, there wasn't even much being offered on the second day of the conference that I was interested in, though I did want to take part in a 3-hour workshop on Sunday. In terms of time, staying for the whole weekend would have been wasteful. I have family issues I could deal with at home on Saturday and nothing really to gain in terms of conference content if I stayed. So I arranged to teach my workshop on Friday, attend Friday evening social (extrovert!) events, stay over, head home Saturday morning and come back Sunday morning. We're talking a couple of extra hours of driving. For an introvert, that is nowhere near as exhausting as having to struggle to be on for an extra 24 hours with strangers and near strangers.
Now, once again, we may be talking a relativity situation here. Extroverts (like the teacher who wrote The Atlantic essay) could very well say that I've allowed my introversion to deny me some professional networking time. I suspect many introverts would say that networking is highly overrated and that I have come up with a way to give myself my best chance of a successful weekend by slipping myself into and out of Extrovert World.
Needless to say, I'll be blogging about how this goes come May. I'm also hoping to read Quiet at some point.